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Tune Up Gone Wrong

Now my car won’t start. My engine light came on after I did a gas treatment on my 1995 Toyota Corolla DX station wagon. It had been starting up and running great, but I figured I should get it checked out. I just recently acquired the car from a friend, who had let it sit around since last July, so I knew the car could use some TLC. I talked to a friend who works on cars and he said that the gas treatment can gum things up for the spark plugs and cause the engine light to go on. He offered to show me how to do a tune up, and told me exactly what to buy: new spark plugs, a set of new spark plug wires, a distributor cap and ignition rotor, and a pcv valve. I went out and got everything and the other day he came over to walk me through the process, explaining step by step (he did everything, I just watched). Just to see what kind of power my engine was getting, after he took out the old spark plugs he did a compression test on each cylinder. The car did great, has plenty of power with compression readings of 210, 215, 210, and 210. Then he carefully replaced the spark plugs with di-eletric goop to seal them and his special wrench for the right torque, removed and replaced the distributor cap and rotor, and double checked the correct order of the new spark plugs. And… Nothin. (x 4)

The car wouldn’t start and he retraced his steps 4 times(!!) The first couple of rounds of removing and replacing things he noticed the spark plugs were wet with fuel and sprayed something on them to clean them off. He couldn’t figure out what was preventing the spark, and when the cleaning them off didn’t work he wondered if there was a little spring or something that might have fallen out of the ignition rotor’s chamber, but we couldn’t find one. He made sure the spark plug wires were all correctly ordered and untangled, and… Nothin. This has never happened to him, and he was stumped. He even replaced all the old stuff (including the old spark plugs) and it still wouldn’t start. He works at Boeing on some crazy schedule and won’t have time to come by to figure this out until the end of the month. Help!

And Thanks!


I actually owned a 1995 Corolla 1.8 sedan for several years

One day out of the blue, it wouldn’t start

After checking the basics, I decided to take a very close look at the ignition coil. In spite of it passing the resistance tests, it was physically cracked.

A new coil got me going

If your friend wants to look into that, the coil is under the cap and rotor

Just something to think about . . .

When your friend did the compression check, did he pull the fuses for the ignition as well as the fuel pump.

If the ignition system was firing without the spark plugs in the wires and grounded or the distributor plug disconnected, the coil or igniter may have been damaged by overvoltage.

If the fuel pump fuse was not removed, the engine may be overloaded with excess fuel as it would have been cold cranking i.e. sending a very rich starting mixture.

Check to see if you have a spark at any of the spark plugs. If there is spark, try cranking with the gas pedal floored (of course release the pedal when the engine catches).

I have an early 90’s Corolla. If this happened to me, I’d check for spark at one of the spark plugs. If spark was ok, and there was fuel on the spark plug tips, I’d assume the cylinders are flooded. I’d remove the spark plugs, disable the fuel pump, and crank the engine a few times to expel as much gas as possible from the cylinders. Then I’d let it sit for a day or two with the spark plugs removed. The idea is to allow all the gas in the cylinders to evaporate.

I had a VW Rabbit years ago, and something similar happened. It was working fine, then I did some work (on the fuel injection system in that case), put everything back together, and it wouldn’t start no matter what I did. Finally I had it towed to the shop. The shop called me at work and said they didn’t have to do anything, it started right up! It turns out I had flooded the cylinders and just the ride to the shop and the time waiting was enough to clear the excess fuel out. Expensive lesson learned.

If there is no spark, you will have to call in expert help. Something in the electricals is amiss.

Other ideas: The rotor installed may have been the incorrect one, and it damaged something else in the process. Compare the old rotor to the new, they should have the exact same dimensions. (I mention this, b/c I had an auto parts store sell me the wrong dimension rotor just a couple weeks ago.) Did he have a tough time removing the rotor, and had to pry it off? If not done correctly, that can damage parts of the ignition module or the coil. Did he disconnect wires going to the distributor as part of this? (Not the spark plug wires, the control wires, on mine there are two separate connectors.) Maybe there’s something wrong there, didn’t get reconnected properly. Did the ignition timing get changed? i.e. did the distributor itself get turned during all this? Before he started, did he draw witness marks to preserve the distributor timing, and draw a diagram of the cap orientation and the wires going to the 4 cylinders? If not, while I’m sure your friend has the best of intentions, maybe this isn’t the best person to ask for help going forward. Best of luck.

“If the ignition system was firing without the spark plugs in the wires and grounded or the distributor plug disconnected, the coil or igniter may have been damaged by overvoltage.”

Quoted from Researcher above…and this is my first guess.